As a tropical storm bashed against the roof of our container home on a recent trip to Rarotonga, I relished the chance to chill out and relax – albeit very awkwardly at first. After having played way too many rounds of last card and almost never always being the first to get out, I threw it in and headed for the couch. Scrolling through the movie titles, I came across Hidden Figures. It was a movie I knew absolutely nothing about, but the first scene of three beautifully dressed black women fixing a car on the side of the road reminded me of my sisterhood. My blood sisters, my cuzzie sisters, my aunty sisters, my mahi sisters, and most importantly, my phd sisters.

I reflected on the many moments along the way where our own cars have broken down… as well as the many other parts of our lives that haven’t quite withstood solid ground. The struggles have been real, but through it all we continue to grow, blossom and transform into the strong Māori wahine that we have always been and are becoming. We are the living embodiment of our tūpuna, and most importantly, we are the granddaughters of our grandmothers great. We too will be the same for our own in years to come, both in life and in spirit.

Hidden Figures is a fascinating biographical movie that captures the inspirational and untold lives of three African American women in the early 1960’s. Now what is most incredible about their story, is that these three extremely intelligent, beautiful women weren’t undertaking menial cleaning or administrative duties as most would tend to assume. Instead, they worked at NASA. They unleashed their super brain powers to become the firsts in their fields, regardless of gender, race or colour. They were the computers before computers even existed. They were the theorists of change before the change had even been invented.

Through their sheer brilliance and hard work, they broke the backs of white domination. They were the first.

Can I get a Amine sisters!

There are several powerful scenes throughout the movie, but one of my most favourite is when Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe) vies to chase the goalposts as they are shifted before her eyes. She ends up petitioning to a judge to attend an all white school evening class so that she may be considered for an engineer programme at NASA. Challenging him to reflect on his own success at being the first throughout his lifetime, she asks him ‘Out of all the cases you are going to hear today, which one is going to matter a hundred years from now? Which one is gonna make you the first?’.

If we are to effect real change for our whānau, hapū, iwi and Te Ao Māori, we too have no choice but to be the first. In writing our PhD’s, we are privileged to be the first to theorise in our own fields. To uncover what hasn’t yet been uncovered. To articulate what hasn’t yet been articulated. To weave what hasn’t yet been woven. 

From the places we stand, the hands that we hold and the hearts that we make sing, we are privileged. We must remind ourselves in our work to consider what is going to matter 100 years from now. How are we going to break the back of the colonial system that we have inherited here in Aotearoa?

Being first is all about perspective. It’s about many things. It’s not even about a competition either. Striving to be first can motivate us in many different ways. 


You could be the first to get up in your house each day. 

The first to say I love you.

You could be the first to catch a fish (and have to give it back). 

The first to say thank you.

You could be the first to call on your Marae. 

The first to say welcome.

You could be the first in this generation to speak te reo Māori again.

The first to say Kia ora.

You could be the first face your mokopuna sees.

The first to say Tihei Mauri ora!

You could be the first to get a phd.

The first to write Dr. before your family name.

You could be the first Māori Prime Minister.

The first tangata whenua to lead our country in this century.

You could be the first to make a million dollars. 

The first to say ‘Here – have it, it’s yours’.

You could be the first to build your homestead on your own lands again. 

The first after many years to say I am the land and the land is me.

…you could also be the first to die.

It is certain that you will be the first of many things. Your actions today will echo for eternity. The time we have here is short. Let the world know you were here.

If there is anything you must do before this year ends, I encourage you to enjoy the movie Hidden Figures with your whānau. Then, after it – plan a great 2019 full of firsts and imagine how what you achieve together with the support of your whānau can contribute to the world that your mokopuna inherit in 2119.

Be inspired. Be motivated. Be grateful. Be mindful. Be kind. Be great. Be brave. 

Be the light. Be the love.



My Aunty Lucy Steel was the first to break her leg in the inaugural Spirited Women’s Race in Rotorua in 2016. Our team was the only team that didn’t finish that day. In 2018, we came back with a vengeance – finishing our own first ever Spirited Women’s Race! Be the first xx

One Comment

  1. Hinekura Lisa Smith

    Amine sister amine! Thank you for a wonderful and thoughtful piece sister Jodi. My friendship with you through our PhDs is a taonga I will carry with me as I bust out some firsts here and there aroha nui e te hoa.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s